Between Turns Podcast

A podcast about board games, current (and not so current) events and basically anything else we meander into during our weekly gaming sessions.

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Don't adjust your dials!

John Middleton
United States
Washington
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Podcast: Between Turns


Hey everybody!
Just wanted to drop a short note to prep everybody for some new and exciting changes coming to Between Turns.

As dedicated “Turnlings” know, we haven’t been shy about trying new things here at the show. Along the way we’ve learned a lot, and in a recent post Jeff teased out some thoughts on new direction and goals. Well, after letting that marinate for a bit, he is hoping to try out some new stuff soon that we hope you all enjoy.

However, in order to pave the way for some of that stuff, I will be necessary for me to relinquish my seat as co-host. Bummer, sure, but I am hoping that what is coming is exciting and fun for all of us so I will be joining everyone in anticipation.

So here’s to the future! And in the meantime I can start answering all these emails about Han Solo…

-john

Find the show on iTunes, Stitcher and directly from the RSS feed http://betweenturns.libsyn.com/rss

If you enjoy the show we'd appreciate it if you left a review. As always, let us know what you think here or join our Between Turns guild and let us know there.

If you are on facebook, throw us a like over there and stay up to date with the show https://www.facebook.com/BetweenTurns/

or e-mail us: betweenturns@gmail.com

Thanks for reading and listening!
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Tue Oct 10, 2017 3:53 am
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Episode 17: John's Naked Board Game Lunch

Jeffrey Pratt
United States
Bellingham
WA
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Podcast: Between Turns


This week's episode is all about solo games. We take a good long look at Navajo Wars, from Joel Toppen and GMT. I won't rehash it here because you can just listen to the episode.



But what I do want to touch on is a lot of games we didn't cover. We talked about them of course, but the first thing you learn in podcasting is how to cut, cut, cut. We talked about a half a dozen more games, but we aim for the show to be about an hour, so inevitably some stuff ends up on the chopping block. On my end, it's stuff like At the Gates of Loyang, Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game and the superb Phantom Leader Deluxe. For John, it's Agricola, Utopia Engine and the Mage Knight Board Game.

We had quite a long discussion on Mage Knight because, for a variety of reasons, it was the most shameful game on my wall of shame. Vlaada Chvátil is one of my favorite designers, Mage Knight is literally the game that got me back into gaming almost 20 years ago and the sheer wall of support the game has among solo gamers meant that it should absolutely be a home run for me. But it wasn't, for a variety of reasons. I had a hard time connecting the fiction in the board game to the fiction that was in the old miniatures game I knew so well. I was absolutely enamored with the details of the game, but discouraged by the need to constantly reference the location cards to keep the different types of encounters straight. It is absolutely amazing how much detail Vlaada and the rest of the expansion designers managed to cram into the game, but when you're learning the ropes, it can be a bit overwhelming.

During our initial chat as part of this episode, I was really trying to figure out what I was missing, where my signals were getting crossed. I should love this game, but I didn't...and that bugged me. Well, as luck would have it, we ended up with a lot of material for this episode of the podcast. So that Mage Knight discussion, while interesting, doesn't have to be aired with my incomplete thoughts. Because after we talked, I took what I learned from John and I dove back in. All told, I've spent about 30 hours over the last couple of weeks doing nothing but playing Mage Knight. I was motivated by having unlocked Navajo Wars, as we discussed in the episode and by a few helpful hints John dropped in our talk. I figured some stuff out and more importantly, I understood how everything in the game tied together. Spoiler alert, I'm ready now to join the believers.

At this point, Mage Knight as a board game has been around for years. It is rated in top 20 here on BGG, which is no small feat, considering almost no one plays it as anything but a solitaire game these days. Nothing I reveal about it is going to be a surprise to the game's legion of fans. But if I've learned anything in my time on this planet, it's that none of us are nearly as unique as we think we are. If I've had these doubts about the game, then so have others. So I am going to give it another week of plays, to really explore, and then I think, next week when I am a hair more confident in my observations, I will do another "Don't Panic" blog entry for Mage Knight. Hopefully, it will help get folks over the hump that want to play but have shied away as I once did. In the meantime, enjoy the new episode and by all means, chime in with any helpful hints you have for enjoying Mage Knight, or any other solo game in your repertoire.

-Jeff


Find more episodes on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and directly from the RSS feed http://betweenturns.libsyn.com/rss

If you enjoy the show we'd appreciate it if you left a review. As always, let us know what you think here or join our Between Turns guild and let us know there. There's a free microbadge drive going on for everyone who joins up there!

If you are on facebook, throw us a like over there and stay up to date with the show https://www.facebook.com/BetweenTurns/

Follow us on Twitter @BetweenTurns

or e-mail us: betweenturns@gmail.com

Thanks for reading and listening!
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Mon Sep 25, 2017 9:35 am
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Our Biggest Download Month So Far!

Jeffrey Pratt
United States
Bellingham
WA
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This blog post is going to be a little bit "Inside the Actor's Studio" about doing the podcast. Or maybe "Inside the Extras Studio" would be more apt, because I'm not writing it from the top of the heap. I'm writing it from a place of "Holy crap, people are actually interested in what we have to say!" That sounds like a silly thing to think to yourself when you are actively going out of your way to broadcast your conversations on the internet. But unless you are someone with a history of some sort performance art, I'd wager most people have similar doubtful thoughts about podcasting or putting up videos on YouTube.

I won't try to tell you that it isn't sometimes uncomfortable to think that a thousand people are listening to you trip over and botch an analogy (humorously, I hope). Or how strange it is to think that at any particular moment someone, somewhere may be listing our show as a favorite in a podcast discussion, or even stranger, that someone at that or a similar table is then replying about how annoying we are, or how off the mark the show is, for whatever reason. None of that really matters, of course. No matter what you do there is someone that is not going to like it.

That's not a stumbling block for me and I doubt it is for John, but it is something I sometimes think about out of curiosity over why it can be such an odd sensation. I guess it's because most of us only live out our day to day experiences with criticism coming from sources we personally know. Having strangers directing it at you is what puts things into unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory for most people, I think.

At any rate, the show continues to grow, with September having our biggest download numbers so far, and we haven't even released its second episode yet. The growth so far has been mostly fueled by word of mouth. While that's certainly the slow way to go, it's also a deeply fulfilling way for it to happen. It's a thrill on any given morning for me to see a big bump in downloads, especially when one happens without a blog post or a new episode promoting the show. When that happens, it feels like somebody out there is shining a light on us unsolicited, which is the warmest fuzziest feeling there is, or at least it is until we figure out how to integrate the kittens lurking around Between Turns HQ into the show stats.

From gallery of vladdswrath

"Between Turns will make you feel warm and fuzzy" ~ Hypno-kitties


In the meantime, I do try to plug the show here and there to help things along. It's tricky because even though I think the show has settled into a fairly consistent feel, I'm not sure how to categorize it. Being hard to categorize is sort of the point, and I know it's one of John's favorite things about what we're doing...but it is admittedly difficult to define it or to concisely nail down an elevator pitch for the curious.

So I'd like to wrap this up by asking those of you out there that are listening, how would you describe our show?

-Jeff

Find our episodes on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and directly from the RSS feed http://betweenturns.libsyn.com/rss

If you enjoy the show we'd appreciate it if you left a review. As always, let us know what you think here or join our Between Turns guild and let us know there. There's a free microbadge drive going on for everyone who joins up there!

If you are on facebook, throw us a like over there and stay up to date with the show https://www.facebook.com/BetweenTurns/

Follow us on Twitter @BetweenTurns

or e-mail us: betweenturns@gmail.com

Thanks for reading and listening!
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Fri Sep 22, 2017 8:51 am
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Episode 16: Triangulating Thumbs

Jeffrey Pratt
United States
Bellingham
WA
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Podcast: Between Turns


Today's podcast release is all about bias, perspective, and motivations. Specifically, what folks want when they look to someone else for opinions on a game. Do they want a "just the facts ma'am" presentation, a treatise spoken with rigorous defense, or simply a piece of advice on whether or not to invest their hard-earned money in a product?



It quickly becomes apparent that the answer is the audience wants all of those things, at least as a collective. But it is a collective made up of individuals and very rarely does an individual completely track with a crowd. Inevitably, that creates pockets of friction. I don't know if it is a reflection of the times, growing pains for a new media, or simply good old fashioned personality clashes being magnified by the medium, but people seem to get awfully spun up about the motivations of people that by and large are trying to share something that brings them joy.

Of course, there are in fact many other reasons people do it besides spreading joy. In fact, John would (and has) fallen out of his chair laughing at me saying something like "Spreading joy is a great motivation for me to do a podcast." I do sincerely hope our discussions help people think about things in new ways, but make no mistake; I do the show simply because I like talking about games the same way people in book clubs like talking about plots and sports fans like to talk about fantasy all-star teams. It's another way for me to engage with something I love. Even if spreading joy like Johhny Appleseed isn't my ultimate altruistic goal, it still feels pretty good when someone reaches out and thanks me for a recommendation or compliments us on a discussion we have shared via the show. Is that a selfish motivation? Maybe. Probably. But I hope that everyone listening can take something constructive from it, even if it is from watching me come down on the wrong side of a discussion. It happens, but I like to learn more than I like to teach and often times I do that by tripping right over my own biases.

So it is with this episode. You won't hear any specific moment where the veil of misunderstanding is lifted from me. I still enjoy offering opinions, rating games and making top 10 lists, as well as seeing that stuff from others. I will happily discuss anything I have knowledge of and gladly speak up when I disagree with a reviewer's take. But I did walk away from this conversation with something new, a better perspective on why I want to do this podcast. On what I get out of it and what more I want.

That's a whole other discussion I think, and probably not a public one, but I hadn't really analyzed it before. I see some biases I didn't know were there as well as some of the motivations that drive those biases. It has cleared up some things and left me better focused on what is important to me and by extension, to my part of the show and any future plans we make with it.

I think everyone else can find something in this discussion to think about as well, even if it's nothing more than remembering to be kind to your reviewers. Even when you don't agree with them, remind yourself as to why you are watching or listening. In a sense, when you hit the play button on a review, you are asking their opinion. Don't get angry when they give it to you.

Reviewers are already showing you their vulnerable underbelly. There's no need to poke it with a stick...

-Jeff

Find more episodes on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and directly from the RSS feed http://betweenturns.libsyn.com/rss

If you enjoy the show we'd appreciate it if you left a review. As always, let us know what you think here or join our Between Turns guild and let us know there. There's a free microbadge drive going on for everyone who joins up there!

If you are on facebook, throw us a like over there and stay up to date with the show https://www.facebook.com/BetweenTurns/

Follow us on Twitter @BetweenTurns

or e-mail us: betweenturns@gmail.com

Thanks for reading and listening!
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Mon Sep 11, 2017 11:43 pm
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A Shot of Cardboard Courage

Jeffrey Pratt
United States
Bellingham
WA
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The last few weeks I have found myself alone with my thoughts for abnormally long stretches of time. My days often have a little too much of that anyway, but a confluence of household issues, the summer vacations, illnesses and general "that's life" type stuff has ratcheted up my sense of isolation. Generally, I enjoy having the time to work through things and get my thoughts in order because I try to always be evolving for the better. While I still have the occasional boneheaded thought to entertain, I think I am a bit wiser than I was a week ago, loads wiser than I was two years ago, and honestly, running almost a completely different operating system than the one that was occupying my neural network even ten years ago. I am glad for that, but it still leaves me as frustrated as ever when things bug out on me and I make the wrong read, leaving myself in a corner or otherwise caught flat-footed with my pants down.


From gallery of vladdswrath



No one like to be in that position, so I think a lot about how to respond when it happens to me. It's useful and productive I think, but the trick is in not going too far down your own rabbit hole. In my own life, that is a hidden land of doubt, depression, and confusion. All are natural places to visit now and again, but too much time there can make it really hard to pull back when the time comes to be done with it. I could have made one of those unfortunate journeys in this stretch of alone time, but thankfully I managed to distract myself with some unfinished gaming projects. In short, I dove into some solo titles.

Playing through them didn't make things better. It didn't answer any of my questions, nor did it provide any solutions to the myriad of issues I want to solve in the next few years. But sorting the rules for myself, tinkering with the bits and enjoying the narrative arc of my various cardboard adventures provided a much-needed respite from the internal cacophony that sometimes can spring up in the silence. I saw an interesting discussion the other day about the type of personalities most at risk for depression and everything that goes with it. The gist of it was that people who have the clearest and most honest view of themselves, the ones that know most precisely where their talents rank and what their future prospects are, are the ones most likely to sink into the deepest holes.

I don't know if all that is true or not. Hope and optimism are obviously not common traits in the clinically depressed, so maybe that particular insight about the self-evaluations of depressed folks should be the least surprising thing I've read this week. Still, it made me feel a little better about some of the things I've been thinking about, even if it is just for confirmation that the old logic processors are still working. The important thing is that I learned I can still grab a break from my most stressful thoughts when my regular gaming outlets dry up. In previous attempts, I had a hard time finding the imagination vine when I tried to play solo. By forcing myself through the process of learning a few hard ones, I finally found the joy in it.

I'm not going to go into the details about what I played. You'll hear a bit in the next couple of weeks on the podcast and once I finally manage to win a game of Mage Knight, I plan on telling you all about it. But this week I think the details are sort of unimportant to the story. In fact, there is probably nothing I can say about the heavy hitters in the solo realm that everyone who plays them doesn't already know. It's been a long time since I've truly been the new guy and quite honestly, it's kind of invigorating. I've joined up with the one player guild here on BGG and started poking around some of the solo game review video content that's out there. The cast of reviewers that are doing this sort of content is somewhat new to me as well, which only adds to the sense of adventure.

I'm glad I finally opened myself up to it. Gaming has been an important piece of escapism in my life and I'm happy to know that avenue doesn't have to close when all of my friends are away taking care of their own lives. Of course, like any pain killer, I'll have to be careful not to over do it. Then again, I can't imagine it'd be anything but fascinating to watch someone Breaking Bad...for board games. That show pretty much writes itself.

In the meantime, I hope this blog entry catches the notice of a few members of the solo community and they chime in with any tips, tricks, and recommendations for me. I'm all ears.

-Jeff

Find the show on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and directly from the RSS feed http://betweenturns.libsyn.com/rss

If you enjoy the show we'd appreciate it if you left a review. As always, let us know what you think here or join our Between Turns guild and let us know there. There's a free microbadge drive going on for everyone who joins up there!

If you are on facebook, throw us a like over there and stay up to date with the show https://www.facebook.com/BetweenTurns/

Follow us on Twitter @BetweenTurns

or e-mail us: betweenturns@gmail.com

Thanks for reading and listening!
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Fri Sep 8, 2017 7:11 am
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Episode 15: Do Androids Dream of Electric Pineapples?

Jeffrey Pratt
United States
Bellingham
WA
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Podcast: Between Turns


There has been a bit of a thematic undercurrent to our last few discussions on the show, as well as off air, during our game nights. The particulars of the topics have varied, but all of them seem to revolve around gaming motivations. What are people trying to get out of a game and more importantly, what happens when they are trying to extract something different than the rest of the table?

Usually, it causes some sort of strife. The severity of which tends to vary depending on the motivations in conflict. For me personally, it has always been most trying when someone throws their hands up and says "Who cares, it's just a game" and then does something seemingly random or counter-intuitive. For the most part, this is an easy fix for me. I simply don't play that particular game with that particular person again. That seems like the obvious solution and for the most part, it is.

But there is a danger in that. A temptation to assume that everyone that does something in a game that seems irrational, is doing it for the same reason. Sure, the person that openly declares "I am playing for Chaos!" is wearing their intention on their sleeve, but that still doesn't mean that their reason for doing so has anything to do with the last guy at your table that made the same declaration. It's easy to pigeonhole folks without meaning to do so, particularly if you are feeling socially stressed out about a conflict of gaming interest.

Today's podcast touches on this stuff a bit. John has some wise words about it, and some practical ones, for that matter. I can't promise I won't accidentally give a little side eye if someone starts building anything but infantry as Russia in the opening turns of an Axis and Allies game...but going forward I will at least wait to see what they do with those Bombers before I grumble about it.



Enjoy the show!

-Jeff

Find more episodes on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and directly from the RSS feed http://betweenturns.libsyn.com/rss

If you enjoy the show we'd appreciate it if you left a review. As always, let us know what you think here or join our Between Turns guild and let us know there. There's a free microbadge drive going on for everyone who joins up there!

If you are on facebook, throw us a like over there and stay up to date with the show https://www.facebook.com/BetweenTurns/

Follow us on Twitter @BetweenTurns

or e-mail us: betweenturns@gmail.com

Thanks for reading and listening!
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Mon Aug 28, 2017 10:13 am
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Convention Exclusive Smuggler's Blues

Jeffrey Pratt
United States
Bellingham
WA
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From gallery of vladdswrath


This time of year always stirs up the discussions about convention exclusives, promos, and soft releases. To put a finer point on it, the place and character of those who deal in the aftermarket sales of those items. While I completely understand the frustration of missing out on a limited release item, what I don't quite understand is the vitriol directed at those who would rather have cash than a small piece of cardboard. There seems to be a need for many gamers to categorize the folks who flip these exclusives as deviant, anti-social financial predators. Well, that may be a little hyperbolic, but still, the reaction seems overly intense for such a trivial thing as someone getting a bit of a rebate on their convention trip.

I suppose it is just a microcosm of the "haves vs. the have nots" conflict that has plagued mankind since its inception. Still, there a couple of parts to the debate that give me pause, because I can't quite figure out who I'm actually supposed to be mad at about it.

For example, one of the most common refrains I hear is "Scalpers deny true fans of the game the opportunity to play it, just so someone who doesn't care can make a quick buck". While that might be true if we stopped following the ball on the first bounce, what becomes quickly apparent is that the story doesn't really end there. For the guy who doesn't care about the game to make his quick buck, he has to find a buyer. Usually a buyer willing to pay two or three times MSRP, or even more, if it was a free item. And here is where I have the big problem with this opinion because I ask you, what bigger fan is there than one willing to pay three times the cost of an item to get it a month or two early?

Another thing that bothers me is seeing so many people stereotyping, judging and criticizing folks about whom they know nothing. I keep hearing or reading that the people flipping these games are only in it for the money, not the hobby. How on earth can you know that? It is expensive to go to a con. Many have to fly in, pay for four days of a hotel stay, budget both food and entertainment purchases. This is easily a $500-$1500 dollar trip, for many. For those treating it as a vacation, it only goes up from there. That isn't small potatoes and I'd guess that a sizable percentage of these product flips are to offset part of the cost of the reseller's trip, essentially letting someone have a slightly less stressful time budgeting for their few days of gamer bliss.

There also seems to be a conceit in that last idea, that people who are flipping aren't gaming at all. That they are just at the convention to make money. While I understand the emotional response of someone missing out on a promo that someone else received, I don't think the critique itself holds up, for a couple of reasons. First off, the gaming landscape is vast. A person can love games in dozens of different genres and still not have a clue about any one particular game. If a game is acquired outside of a person's interest, why shouldn't they exchange it for something, or many somethings for that matter, that are within their interests? That seems like common sense and again I'd wager that if we were talking about Christmas presents and not Gen Con exclusives, no one would have a problem with someone trading something they didn't want, for something they did. Not even if the thing that was wanted, was money!

Second, if the big evil here is Capitalism than we should come to grips with the fact that the entire convention hall is geared to make people money. The vendors, publishers, and food service folks are all there making money. Why is it such a stretch to think that others there would try to make money as well? Board games are nothing if not a luxury. Gen Con and Essen both are meccas for the expenditure of disposable income. Even so, selling a single copy of a game at three times MSRP is not nearly a lucrative enough opportunity to attract one large scale predatory capitalist, much less many of them. People that react to these sales listings during or immediately after the convention with such anger surprise me, since a truly merciless swindler haunting the vendor hall is no doubt mostly a boogie man.

Many if not most of the people taking time to sell their exclusives while at the convention need that money to even be there at the convention, or to otherwise enjoy the other aspects of the event. If they didn't, they likely wouldn't expend their time nor their effort to acquire something they didn't desire. No one wants to wait in line in a hot crowded room for an hour or carry around a 10 lb. box for eight hours. That's work, not fun. If someone does that to make a hundred bucks during their vacation time, then they probably needed that money pretty badly. All that is impossible to know, but regardless, it seems like wasted energy and bad form to be critical of such people without knowing much about their situation.

As I wrap this up, I can't help but think about what will happen when I hit the submit button. This seems to be a hot button issue at times, but I hope that I have been both fair and eloquent enough in expressing my thoughts on the matter. Nothing to do now but launch and see what the Between Turns crowd has to say about it.

Hope you had a great Gen Con, or Gen Can't!

-Jeff

Find the show on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and directly from the RSS feed http://betweenturns.libsyn.com/rss

If you enjoy the show we'd appreciate it if you left a review. As always, let us know what you think here or join our Between Turns guild and let us know there. There's a free microbadge drive going on for everyone who joins up there!

If you are on facebook, throw us a like over there and stay up to date with the show https://www.facebook.com/BetweenTurns/

Follow us on Twitter @BetweenTurns

or e-mail us: betweenturns@gmail.com

Thanks for reading and listening!
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Sun Aug 20, 2017 7:59 pm
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Episode 14: The 10th Anniversary Definitive Limited Collector's Edition Fan Appreciation Director's Cut Between Turns Exclusive Special Presentation Redux

Jeffrey Pratt
United States
Bellingham
WA
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Podcast: Between Turns


I have spent most of my life as a consumer of products. Occasionally, I have found myself in the position of distributor or merchant of products. Before John and I started this show, I had never been a producer of products. Or a creator, for that matter. It's been an enlightening journey and occasionally, as is usually the case with personal growth, sometimes a painful one. As it turns out, creating things is hard. Especially when your habits in the other sectors of the supply chain work counter-productive to creativity.

But that's not what this episode is about. One part of the whole creative process that I did not expect was how powerful the urge to seek perfection really was. At how a creative process can get paralyzed with inaction when you let a concern for achieving perfection get in the way. It's more than that though. There is a new show for you to listen to now, and a dozen or so more for you to listen to after that if you are new to Between Turns. So clearly we have figured out how to push through that. The real surprise was finding out how strong the urge would be to go back and meddle with stuff we have already done.

That is one hobgoblin no one told me about, although I should have been able to anticipate it, just by looking at all creative works around me that are constantly tinkered with by their creators. Prequels, special editions, director's cuts, you name it. They are all attempts to "fix" percieved flaws and almost universally, they are creator driven. I don't think I ever heard someone demand to know why Mos Eisley wasn't full of Tatooine roadrunners and space coyotes when I was growing up, yet George Lucas decided it needed more life. Why? Who knows...but it clearly bothered him for all those years.

I'm starting to suss it out though. When we launched the show, we made a couple of episodes to put in cold storage, so we could fill in any gaps when one of us was pulled away from recording. The problem is that as we have settled into our groove, some aspects of those old episodes seem strangely out of place. Should we have ditched them? That seemed like a lot of wasted work in the editing room. Should we re-record? We did that once, well twice, with the Millenium Blades episode. It was hilariously awkward, trying to have the same conversation three times, but ultimately I think we turned that awkwardness into a pretty entertaining episode, so at least that one all worked out in the end. For the most part, we have settled on just producing the episodes as we release them. That way we can keep on evolving as the show goes on and not have to worry about cold storage episodes sounding out of place.

As we get better at it though, the urge keeps creeping in on me to go back and fix a few things in some of those old episodes. To re-record them with a new mic, or to patch over one of my failed analogies, like insinuating that it is tough to crack an egg, when clearly I meant a nut. I'd wager most listeners don't even notice that sort of thing, but now that I have a hand in creating something, it drives me a little bit crazy fighting the urge to want to go and fix it. So far, John has kept me adequately distracted with the sage advice that it is better to channel that energy into new content. He is right of course and so far, we have.

But I'm not sure I can be trusted. Eventually, John has to go on vacation or get summoned away to a distant job site or business meeting. Or maybe just out to get a pizza. Sooner or later, I am going to be bored and sitting here with the keys to the archives. What then? Will I be able to resist the temptation?

I'm going to go watch Han shoot first, and see if that helps me talk myself down from this.

Enjoy the show.

-Jeff




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Sat Aug 12, 2017 1:18 am
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First Steps Into the Age of Steam

Jeffrey Pratt
United States
Bellingham
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Just admit it already, Small World is not a fantasy wargame...it's a Mancala variant!
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Board Game: Age of Steam


If you've listened to the latest episode of the podcast, you know I have taken my first steps into the rather deep pool that is Age of Steam. Since the recording of that episode, we have managed to play it a couple of times and I'm happy to report, it has completely lived up to the good things I've heard. So good in fact, that it has put me in a pickle with an absolute pillar in my gaming collection. It's not that I feel a need to get rid of what I have always considered to be one of my Top 10 games, Railways of the World. It's that I no longer feel good about its spot in my personal pantheon, now that I have played a game that is better in every way, other than the superficial good looks department.

Board Game: Railways of the World
Board Game: Age of Steam

AoS (right) is not so inspiring in comparison, eh?



From its original incarnation as Railroad Tycoon, Railways of the World was always known to have been a direct adaptation of Age of Steam, meant to pull out the most interesting concepts, spruce them up and make it all fit for consumption by a more casual audience. And by casual, I mean mid-weight Euro lovers. (Which by itself is sort of a funny statement, since most folks who are well into the mid-weight stuff have already passed out of the "casual bracket".) Glenn Drover, the designer behind the refurbishing, did a wonderful job of simplifying everything while leaving many of AoS's unique traits intact, such as forcing players to kick of the game by going immediately into debt and demanding them to manage a tricky balance of growing infrastructure while maintaining forward progress on the profit sheet. It's a game that allows players to simply take as much money as they need by selling shares, whenever they want, giving almost absolute freedom in decision making. Eventually, all of that free money can lead to a hilarious death spiral of dividend payouts outpacing company profits, but still, the easy going nature of just being able to build stuff makes the game very appealing when taught to new players.

How to play this fairly complex sounding game is spelled out in a rulebook that consists of only about 4 pages of large print rules. It is astounding how brief it is, compared to most of the games in my collection. Because of that, this game has been a stalwart of my Top 10 list. I will play it with anyone, anywhere, regardless of experience level and have a blast doing it.

So what's the problem you ask? Well, it isn't so much a problem as a philosophical dilemma. Can one of my Top 10 games be a game I don't really want to play anymore?

After finally playing Age of Steam, there is no question it is indeed a better game. A far better game, really. It's not even close. The money is tighter, the upgrade choices are agonizing and mistakes on turn one can ruin you. It's a harder game, but that alone isn't why it is better. It is better because you can actually play defense. With the map being only a third of the size of a Railways of the World map, there are tons of ways to cut off other players from the routes they want and yet ironically, it also produces tons of ways for them to create pretzel tracks that work around your blockages. It's a game of move and counter-move, like a knife fight in a phone booth, whereas Railways of the World is a game of sprawling and running for the horizon. Both have merit I suppose, but there is no question that the level of competitiveness and engagement with your opponents is easily ten times higher in Age of Steam.

All of this means that I still will recommend Railways of the World to almost anyone who asks me about it. It is an absolutely brilliant intro into all sorts of genres. Rail games, economic games, pick up and deliver games, network building games, etc. It teaches concepts in working out the merits of short term decisions against their long term consequences and valuable lessons about there being no such thing as free money. (You'll only fall into the dividend death spiral once because you'll never forget the pure comedy and agony of it all. You'll even remember it in different games down the line that feature similar financial decisions.) I'll even go so far as to say it is a better gateway game than Ticket to Ride because it is just as accessible, as proven by the ridiculously easy to parse rulebook.

It also means that I can no longer say that Railways of the World is one of my Top 10 favorite games, as now I think I'd almost always rather be playing Age of Steam. Time to go shuffle the ratings...

-Jeff

(Special thanks to users Mikko Häkkinen, Nicolas Acosta and Jeff Coon for contributing the above photos to the BGG Community!)


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Fri Jul 14, 2017 9:22 pm
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Episode 13: Jeff's Luxurious Cardboard Yacht

Jeffrey Pratt
United States
Bellingham
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Just admit it already, Small World is not a fantasy wargame...it's a Mancala variant!
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Podcast: Between Turns



One of the first things you discover as you enter into table top gaming as a hobby is the vast scope of it all. Most people come into it trying to learn more about one thing, say wargames. Now there are enough wargames to last anyone interested in them a hundred lifetimes, but almost without fail, if you start to spend any of those lifetimes on wargames you will no doubt eventually notice what is going on at the table next to you. Or on the other pages of that website where you learn about the new wargames coming down the line. If you go to a convention, you will see hundreds of people playing games, but all doing something entirely different than you. It is at that point that most of us spend a day or two at one of those strange tables. And then again and again until eventually, some folks from a different part of the pool are spending a day at your table, playing your wargames for a short time, so they can see what those strange wargames are all about. It is one of my favorite parts of gaming, that is, discovering new things.

After spending most of my childhood and teenage years gaming and then diving back in around the time Magic the Gathering first came on the scene. (I was, of course, collecting comic books at the time, it was quite a shock when the tumbleweeds started blowing across the shelves because everyone was huddled in the back room furiously trying to corner the market on Black Lotuses. Who had extra money for comic books anymore?) Then after dabbling around the CCG scene for a while, I discovered BGG and well, I've been riding this board game wave ever since. The point of all that is that I have been trouncing around this pool for a very long time and at some point, you kind of think you have a handle on what is out there. Then something like Heavy Cardboard comes along and suddenly, everyone around you is talking about 8 Hour railroad stock trading games as if they are the most regular thing in the world. It's not that I didn't know they existed mind you, I just didn't think anyone but 70's era Avalon Hill guys, the old timers, could possibly enjoy them. It seemed like something people did either from the hipster angle, or they did it because they just couldn't let go.

That's obviously hilariously untrue, but it's also kind of the point of both this blog post and the podcast that accompanies it. I had heard of 18xx but never saw it in the wild. I knew it was real, but I also knew I had little reason to learn about it since I'd never be in a position to see it in action. Well, times change and now I hear about 18xx everywhere. I see it mentioned by all sorts of people I know from all the myriad parts of the pool that never before had known an 18xx game to be in its midst. It is, literally everywhere...you just have to know where to look.

You might think I am about to hard sell you on the wonders of 18xx. Well, not really. I haven't actually waded into those waters yet, but I am sure it is only a matter of time before I do. What I did discover this past week, was the secret world of Age of Steam. What's so secret you ask? It's in the top 100 games Age of Steam and was in the Top 20 as recently as 2011. It's hardly flying under the radar. But it is not the game itself I discovered, but rather the vast collection of micro-printed expansions, fan content and just straight up retail expansions from across all of the different versions. Finding, acquiring and even making these things is likely to become a full-fledged hobby itself, never mind actually playing them! It is learning about all of this that started me on a path ever closer to those mythical 18xx games. I still haven't stumbled upon one, but now I know it's only a matter of time before my eyes catch a flash of one in some unknown corner of the cardboard jungle.


Listen to the start of this adventure below:





-Jeff



Find the show on iTunes, Stitcher and directly from the RSS feed http://betweenturns.libsyn.com/rss

If you enjoy the show we'd appreciate it if you left a review. As always, let us know what you think here or join our Between Turns guild and let us know there. There's a free microbadge drive going on for everyone who joins up there!

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Tue Jul 4, 2017 12:59 am
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